The Family Stone
Director : Thomas Bezucha
Screenplay : Thomas Bezucha
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2005
Stars : Claire Danes (Julie Morton), Diane Keaton (Sybil Stone), Rachel McAdams (Amy Stone), Dermot Mulroney (Everett Stone), Craig T. Nelson (Kelly Stone), Sarah Jessica Parker (Meredith Morton), Luke Wilson (Ben Stone), Tyrone Giordano (Thad Stone), Brian White (Patrick Thomas), Elizabeth Reaser (Susannah Stone Trousdale), Paul Schneider (Brad Stevenson)
In the entire 100 minutes of Thomas Bezucha’s family-tension dramedy The Family Stone, there are approximately 5 minutes that are fundamentally believable. The rest of the film is contrived, often ridiculous, sometimes sappy, and always annoyingly self-congratulatory. Virtually every scene in the movie is an awkwardly designed exercise in putting people at odds, and perhaps if Bezucha had made some of his characters into more than label-wearing ciphers, some of it may have worked. It also would have helped if someone -- anyone -- in the movie had been moderately likeable or at least tolerable.
The central tension in The Family Stone, which takes place over several days right before Christmas, is between the majority of the laid-back, slightly bohemian New England family of the title and the family’s eldest son, Everett (Dermot Mulroney), whose refusal to take off his Wall Street tie is testament to how far he has fallen from the tree. Everett has brought home his girlfriend, Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker), to whom he is planning to propose on Christmas Day. Everett’s sister, Amy (Rachel McAdams), who is vaguely rebellious but mostly just testy, despises Meredith and brings the rest of the family into her derision, particularly overprotective matriarch Sybil (Diane Keaton), whose Anne Rice hair, chic glasses, and propensity for cursing are supposed to indicate that she is an out-there free spirit. Unfortunately, not even Keaton’s considerable charms are enough to dispel the general feeling that Sybil is just a sanctimonious busybody who wants to run her children’s lives. “I just want them to be happy,” she tells her more easygoing husband (Craig T. Nelson), but what she really means is, “I want them to be happy my way.”
In terms of the Meredith vs. the family friction, it’s hard to say who is worse: the members of the family Stone who heap such bold contempt and casual cruelty on Meredith, or Meredith herself, who does virtually everything to ask for it. Of all the characters in The Family Stone, Meredith is the most unsympathetic because she is the most unbelievable. “I’m not a ridiculous person!” she cries at one point, and it sounds like a plea for her very humanity, something Bezucha clearly forget when writing the script. Meredith is designed from head to toe to clash with the family, which is why she rings so false. Prim, proper, dressed uncomfortably in a gray suit and power heels (for Christmas vacation?), and with her hair slicked back into a power bun so exceedingly tight that it’s pulled all the skin on her face into a smooth mask of unfriendliness, Meredith never even attempts to ingratiate herself into her boyfriend’s clan. It doesn’t help that Sarah Jessica Parker overplays the character’s tics, particularly her tight-lipped displeasure at everything around her. When she finally lets her hair down (literally), it feels less like a moment of organic character insight than it does a contrived plot point.
The only potentially likable members of the family are Ben (Luke Wilson), the casual slacker of a younger brother, and Thad (Tyrone Giordano), who is the opposite of every other character because, rather then being imbued with complete negativity, he is an angelic stand-in for the writer/director’s proudly inclusive attitude. You see, not only is Thad gay, but he’s also deaf and his life partner Patrick (Brian White) is black. Thus, everyone in the family Stone (and Bezucha, by extension) can pat themselves on the back for their liberated thinking and willingness to accept those that the rest of society attempts to marginalize. That would all be well and good if Thad and Patrick resembled anything like a genuine couple, but instead they are a completely desexualized conceit who end up marginalized anyway because they play no role other than lightning rod to attract Meredith’s inappropriate dinner conversation, thus ensuring her complete humiliation. For Bezucha, human decency requires a complete lack of personality.
The Family Stone reaches the heights of contrived machination once Meredith’s younger and more easy-going sister, Julie (Claire Danes), arrives in town and catches Everett’s eye. Bezucha also throws in a terminal illness for one major character, thus ensuring some forced sympathy, and allows the rest of the story to play out along completely predictable lines. Bezucha telegraphs every new development, which doesn’t help to make them go down any easier. Contrivances you can see coming from a mile away are still contrivances, and The Family Stone is literally bursting with them.
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
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